Sunday, February 28, 2010
This is the last of nine articles from the Dec. 27 blog about new year’s resolutions for educators. Never, ever give up on a child or let him/her think he/she is somehow lacking intellectually. Find the child’s strengths and expand on them. All children are special and have such strengths. This suggestion is for parents, teachers and administrators alike.
One of the best ways to never give up on children is to teach them to never give up on themselves. There are many articles on the subject, and even one step-by-step video on Howcast that helps parents teach their children not to give up. http://www.howcast.com/videos/284703-How-To-Teach-Your-Kids-Not-To-Give-Up
It is of utmost importance that teachers do not give up on children. Instead they should encourage them, cajole them, care about them and find ways to brag about them. Passing on positive thoughts about children to their parents is also necessary, in case they are so busy with everyday life that they are not thinking about how important it is to affirm and show affection to their kids.
In my own classroom I was sometimes frustrated, concerned or perplexed, but I never gave up on a child. I often used affirmations to get my message across. Because I knew that some children came from homes where hearing “I love you,” and getting daily hugs and kisses were infrequent, I wrote a classroom creed. We said this creed daily, right after the pledge of allegiance. The theory behind the creed is to realize you are loveable even if you are not getting that message from your family and friends. The message is also that you are the master of your destiny and that you can fulfill your dreams. Here is my classroom creed:
I AM SMART. I AM CAPABLE. I AM LOVEABLE.
I AM THE MASTER OF MY DESTINY.
THERE ARE GOOD CHOICES AND BAD CHOICES IN LIFE.
THE DECISIONS I MAKE NOW WILL INFLUENCE WHAT I BECOME.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO MAKE A POOR CHOICE, BUT I MUST BE
WILLING TO ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES FOR THAT CHOICE.
I HAVE THE RIGHT TO FAIL BUT I DO NOT HAVE THE RIGHT
TO CAUSE MY TEACHER AND OTHER PEOPLE TO FAIL WITH ME.
THEREFORE, BECAUSE I AM SMART,
STARTING TODAY I PLAN TO MAKE SMART CHOICES.
I WILL REACH MY POTENTIAL.
I WILL FULFILL MY DREAMS
by Jan Lind-Sherman
You will notice that when repeating the creed there is a powerful potential for self forgiveness in the final four lines. “Starting today I plan to make smart choices. I will reach my potential. I will fulfill my dreams.” I think it's important that we realize we can have “do overs” when working on goals.
I had an occasion awhile back to watch some of my former students, who are now adults, as they listened to the creed spoken by a bunch of youngsters in a school program. I was touched and amazed when I saw some of them mouthing the words. Teachers do not always realize their impact, but in that moment I felt truly affirmed. For me, I had reached my potential. I had fulfilled my dream of making a difference in the lives of others.
Memorizing poems and affirmations are excellent tools teachers can use to inspire children. Here is a wonderful poem that has has an anonymous author, although it has been claimed by several. It is entitled “Don’t Quit.”
When people pull you down, as they often will
When the battle you’re fighting is all uphill
When the funds are low and the debts are high
When you’re laughing, although you’d rather cry
When you discover yourself slowing down a big
Stop and take a deep breath, but don’t you quit.
Although you’ve worked so hard just to get this far
You must steady your pace, just to stay where you are
You’ll need twice the effort to make your way
Tomorrow won’t come, until you’ve conquered today
And if you discover yourself slowing down a bit
Stop and rest if you must, but don’t you quit.
Always do the best that you can possibly do
Treasure true friends who are far and few
Never give up, whatever the burden you bear
Just one more step might get you there
Often the battle that is proceeding slow
Will conclude abruptly, when dealt another blow
Succeed in believing that you will not fail
Use diligence and determination to set your sail
When the weather is stormy and the waters are rough
In the moment of peril the strong get tough
Whenever life presses you down a bit
Stand up and shout, “I will not quit!
Sunday, February 21, 2010
Here is the eighth in a series of nine articles about a wish list of new year’s resolutions from the December 27 blog. Offer assistance to parents of challenging children with parenting classes and non-judgemental support. So that parents can be better homework helpers, offer them tutoring in areas where they feel weak. So that all students can learn, as is their right, remove disruptive students from the room temporarily until they can return as cooperating class members. Finding creative solutions to disruptive behavior is necessary.
In the kindergarten room Johnny is crawling on the floor, refusing to sit in his chair when asked. Down the hall in Room 6 fourth grader Bobby is taking aim with a broken crayon, his third, as he tries to bean his buddy across the table. Julie, in second grade, reaches over and marks on her seat partner's paper eliciting a loud protest from the injured party. In the library, Grace is poking her neighbor while listening to a story on the rug, causing a poke in return, and great commotion. Emma, a non-compliant 5th grader has not returned any homework since the beginning of the year.
I would bet that in this school these are not isolated instances of acting out - that there would have been many time outs, missed recesses, visits to the office, and phone calls home. I would also bet that some of these kinds of behaviors are occuring in public elementary schools all across the country, causing loss of instruction time for the majority of children forced to bear witness. How these bad behaviors are handled within the school and home has everything to do with the offending student's academic achievement, and if not dealt with properly, the school's overall success.
As I sat here thinking about all the naughty children I have known and loved I remembered the PKC Club and how it started.
Years ago, in my third grade inner city classroom, a battle between two girls escalated to the point of seriously disrupting the classroom. It started several days before with the arrival of one girl from a school in the south. She was "different" from the others in manner, speech and dress - immediately an object of curiosity. Children are funny with new arrivals. If the kid has self esteem and an easy manner he/she soon has friends. If the same kid is seen as smart and "with it", even better. This child, I'll call her Betty, had none of those traits. She was defensive and behind the class academically. Also in the class was Julie - outspoken, not a strong student, but a leader none-the-less. She ruled the playground. I had tried everything I could to ease Betty into school friendships, including partnerships with others both in and out of the room, and playing to her strengths and interests, but to no avail.
Finally I decided to invite the two to lunch in the classroom in order to discuss the situation. I am a big believer in the value of ambience, so I decorated a table with colorful construction paper, and a flower centerpiece flanked by scented candles, then added some tasty looking cupcakes. The girls came in tentatively, a little uncomfortable, but definitely thrilled to be having lunch with the teacher. When they saw the table setting, candlelight and dessert they looked amazed. I was amused to see other students lurking by the open door and gawking at what we were doing before being sent out for recess. The girls began to talk to each other about themselves, with a little gentle prodding from me. I talked about how important it was in life to be polite, kind and considerate to others.
This special time succeeded far beyond what I had expected. We decided to start a club called the PKC Club to help our classmates become more respectful to each other. We further resolved to have a candlelight lunch every Friday for those who had been polite, kind and considerate all week long. As an aside, I sweetened the pot, literally, by bringing some kind of tasty dessert every week.
Although it meant I had to give up most of my lunch break every Friday, the classroom payoff was tremendous. In simple terms, anyone whose name did not appear "on the board" during the week was invited to the lunch. By the end of the year most kids had attended at least one PKC candlelight lunch, and certainly everyone was trying. It covered a multitude of transgressions, with the exception of getting homework in on time.
In the past few weeks I have written two blog articles about the importance of parent involvement and nowhere is it more important than in the following two areas:
(1) Parents need to make sure their child's homework is done completely and turned in on time to teach the important life and work skills of accountability and responsibility.
(2) Parents need to make sure that their children follow school guidelines, especially in terms of respecting others, also as preparation for life and the world of work.
When a child repeatedly breaks school rules, and when all options fail at school, parents must follow through with consistent disciplinary measures at home until the bad behavior is eliminated or minimized. One parent, when phoned about her child's behavior actually said, "Don't tell me about stuff that happens at school That's your problem." Other parents often take the view that it was the other kid's fault - that their child would NEVER do this or that. Sadly, jails are filled with adults whose parents played the blame game, then wondered later what went wrong - often continuing to blame teachers, the school, the community, the authorities and others.
Here are two areas where schools can help parents:
(1) Provide a regular support group for parents where they can get help and ideas on how to parent their challenging children. It would also be a safe place to vent and to learn that they are not alone. Perhaps there could be some kind of mandatory attendance if children are repeat rule breakers. Family Support workers, if there are any, could help with resources and setup.
(2) Homework Helpers can be instituted for those unsure of how to motivate or help their children get homework done. Even on the elementary school level, homework can be beyond what some parents can do and it only gets more difficult as the years go by.
These days, in our complex modern world, where civility and accountability sometimes seem to be part of the "good old days" we all need to be more polite, kind and considerate to everyone we meet, and to teach these values to our children. Would it be too far fetched to start a PKC Movement in our country? Let's at least each commit to practicing PKC in our families to see what happens. Good luck!
If every parent should add the book No, David! and David Gets In Trouble by David Shannon to their children's book collection, then every elementary school teacher should have David Goes to School. The author has an amazing knack of targeting misbehaviors of children in a humorous, empathic way, and his simple drawings are frosting on the cake. At school David challenges every school rule - chews gum, doesn't raise his hand to speak, won't wait his turn, gets into fights, is inattentive, won't stay seated, scribbles on his desk, and more. It is an absolutely perfect way to introduce classroom guidelines at the beginning of the year and good for class discussions.
For parents who are struggling with non-compliant children, check out the following site:
Sunday, February 14, 2010
Here is the seventh in a series of nine articles about a wish list of new year’s resolutions from the December 27 blog. Since there are 180 days in most K-12 school years, the parent-school connection is critical. We need to figure out how to optimize that relationship. We could resolve to: Integrate parents into the learning by phoning with positive messages as well as concerns. Arrange home visits when possible. Lessen school anxiety for parents who have had negative academic experiences by inviting them in as partners in their children’s education. Make it easy and fun with “pizza and pop” dinner meetings. Throw in on-site baby sitting for younger children by older students, and more. Read on.
1988 - CURRICULUM NIGHT IN AN INNER CITY SCHOOL
Looking around my 3rd grade classroom on Curriculum Night many years ago I was satisfied with the room appearance, student-made welcome mats on every desk, and packet of materials for parents to take home. I was excited at the prospect of meeting my students’ families, presenting my curriculum plan and ideas for enriching for the year, and getting feedback from parents.
Before entering the lunchroom/multi-purpose room, I peeked in to see a very small group of people, a few of them juggling babies on their laps, and a few others shushing small children next to them. This year the school had converted from a K-2 Early Childhood Center (ECC) to a K-5 elementary school, and there were many changes in teaching personnel and families. I myself switched from a 1-2 combination to a straight 3rd grade class.
At the microphone the principal welcomed those present, introduced the staff, made a few comments, then sent us to our various rooms. I had been riffed (reduction in force because of budgetary considerations) and rehired twice before coming to this school and though it wasn’t my first placement choice I was convinced it would be a great year. As an ECC this school had previously been a shining star in the Seattle system, and, until now, well attended curriculum nights had been an opportunity to get parents ready for a year long involvement, i.e. joining the PTA, signing up for committees, and becoming room parents.
Standing at my classroom door, a big smile on my face, I waited expectantly for parents to come in and sit at their child’s desk. I was dismayed to see such a small group, again some with children. I bring this up because it is hard to share important information with the distraction of small children. Usually only adults attend the Curriculum Night, while an open house for the entire family is scheduled for later in the year.
Enthusiasm still intact I introduced myself and shared a little about my background and beliefs, followed by going over the packet. It contained an agenda for the evening, my classroom creed, a “step-by-step” look at the day, homework expectations, math fact printables, my classroom science night plan, field trips, and classroom guidelines.I concluded with parental input where I asked them what they would like to see happen this year, followed by questions and answers. Those present were pleased and excited and seemed to feel their children would be in capable hands for the year. We were connected. Those absent received a copy of the packet via the children the next day but getting them on board required more work.
I should add here that many schools have great parent involvement, attendance at school events, and partnership with their children’s teachers. In this article I will be speaking about those schools, like mine, where parents either do not realize the importance of their presence or simply cannot be present for whatever reason. So, the question is: How do we get parents to buy in to their children’s education and commit themselves to the school for the l80 day school year?
Several problem areas should be considered: publicizing functions, family fatigue because of work or home problems, child care needs, negative feelings from past school experiences, feelings of inadequacy, unwelcoming atmosphere, and transportation.
First, in addition to the school calendar given out at the beginning of the year, every function should be publicized well in advance with follow up flyers so that families can plan for them. It may seem like a given, but I have seen flyers go out two days before an event, and find those same flyers littering the playground or bus pick up areas. Although more and more parents have internet access and can check the school web site calendar, many don’t bother, while others don’t have that access. Active room parents or school volunteers forming a telephone tree to call parents can be effective.
Working parents are often so exhausted by 6:00 p.m, the usual time of school programs, that even with good intentions, they just can’t face going home to fix dinner, find a baby sitter, fight with their kids over homework, and then be expected to go out again. These days budgeting for gas can also be a hardship.
For “adults only” functions child care can be an "attendance deal breaker." In this case one solution is to turn an empty classroom into a children’s movie theater with popcorn or other food (see below) and find a qualified volunteer to man it.
So that parents don’t have to cook when they get home, providing pizza and pop at school is cheap and easy. If children do not come along, parents can take a brown bag of the same food for those left at home. To pay for the food a petty cash fund can be established with donations at the beginning of the year. Checking out which companies give small grants to schools for such extras would be a good way to enhance the fund.
Arrangements can be made for families with transportation problems. Volunteer drivers or carpools with other parents are possibilities. The family support worker can be a great resource as well.
A welcoming school atmosphere is critical for those parents who have school phobias or insecurities. Teachers or PTA members can greet guests at the door with smiles and directions.
Having a “homework free night' is a gift that relieves stress for parents and students alike. This reduction in a stressful evening would be appreciated by many.
For me personally, as I realized that the Curriculum Night I mentioned above was going to be the rule, not the exception, I began getting acquainted with parents over the phone, giving them positive messages about their children and upcoming events. I even made some home visits which cemented the bond. As time went by my Curriculum Night was one of the best attended in our school.
Though it takes a lot of extra effort somehow we must show parents the need for their involvement and that, when it comes to educating children, we teachers cannot do it alone. We are there for l80 days doing our very best. Parents, as partners, need to be part of the 180 day commitment as well!
Below are three exciting websites that have many ideas for increasing parent involvement and boosting attendance at school meetings and functions.
(1) Education World is a wonderful free web site for teachers and administrators having five main areas filled with ideas: lesson planning, professional development, information for administrators, tech integration, school issues, and something called market place where one can find a wide array of arts and craft, holiday, sports and other supplies. Go to http://www.educationworld.com/a_admin/archives/parentinv.shtml Under the category of parent involvement there are many ideas and “how to” articles; The following are just ten (10) examples out of the one hundred fifty-two (152) listed.
1. Principal Pod Casts
2. Visitation Day – parents walk in students’ shoes
3. Collaboration dinners to bring parents and staff together
4. Cultivating a volunteer program
5. Cultural Experience Night
6. Starting a l00 mile Club for fitness
7. Bingo night
9. Practical advice for coping with difficult kids and parents
10. Young scientists See and Believe Science Night
School Mates – a connection with a US Naval Ship
(2) PTO Today has an article with links that give step-by-step directions to create a parent involvement ladder as well as an article in how to boost meeting attendance. On boosting PTA attendance ideas include varying the meeting time and place, making the meetings fun and shorter, giving prizes, offering baby sitting and other services, combining them with other school events, finding creative ways to get the word out about the meeting, and finding ways to encourage attendance as one’s responsibility. http://www.ptotoday.com/pto-today-articles/article/143-boost-meeting-attendance
(3) For both parents and teachers there is a wonderful article on 50 ways parents can help schools from the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory. http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/areas/issues/envrnmnt/famncomm/pa1lk20.htm
Sunday, February 7, 2010
Tell me everything you know: Do it in ten words, or so.
Here is the sixth in a series of nine articles discussing an education wish list of New Year's resolutions from the December 27 blog. Is teaching to the test fair? Re-evaluate standardized testing. Remember that kids come in with different skill levels and social experiences. The playing field is not level, and the "one test for all" is not a fair assessment of student academic growth, or school achievement.
Personally I like tests. I liked taking them as a student and I liked giving them as a teacher. As a learner I loved papers returned with a bright red "A" or 100% at the top. At some point there were achievement tests and end-of-year spelling tests, the latter being my favorite. There was no particular angst involved probably because I had no fear of failure. I don't remember any pressure by the teachers, and there was certainly none by my parents. They just assumed I would do my job and do it well. Although my father, a hard working farmer who also ran a state highway crew, wouldn't have recognized the term, it would now be called "parent expectation-student achievement."
I certainly don't remember spending day after day learning material that would be on some future test. But then the teachers didn't have the same pressure to perform in order to be considered successful. Instead the days were filled with new adventures in reading, writing, arithmetic, penmanship, art, singing, finger painting, spending time in the library and playing with friends. Recesses were filled with acting out fairy tales, roller skating, jumping down several concrete stairs at a time to show that I could, and playing games like London Bridge or Red Rover, Red Rover Let Johnny Come Over! To this day the smell of waxed floors and crayolas sends me back to that magical time.
In later years, as a mother of elementary school children, I accepted standardized testing as part of the educational experience. At that time fourth grade students received scores on a spring CAT test that compared them with each other in the district and nationally. Like other mothers I viewed the results with either pleasure or worry, depending on the results. There was always some secret pride in seeing that my children were above grade level in most areas - math occasionally being the exception. I recall a test given again several years later - certainly not every year as it seems to be these days. I have no idea what kind of teaching to the test was administered then. I only know the subject was not a topic of conversation among parents.
It was in the mid 1980s, when I finally had my own classroom, that I looked at standardized testing a little differently. I began to understand the correlation between teaching ability and standardized testing results. For a couple of years the results were excellent and I was understandably proud. It was only when I arrived in an inner city school where many students struggled with social issues like poverty, homelessness, incarceration and the like, that the scores suffered. At about that same time pressure was put on the teachers to "get those scores up" so that we could be seen as doing our job. Schools with high scores attracted more parents, while the lower scoring schools often received students whose parents were naive about placement or didn't know how to work the system. At one point, our principal arranged to bring in a bunch of special education students to bring up school enrollment. The selling point for the staff was that many extra classroom assistants would be accompanying them. We did get the students minus the assistants. Some of these mainstreamed children were unruly and disruptive, and classroom teachers spent many valuable teaching minutes on managing behavior. That, in turn, took a toll on later test results.
Knowing the importance of good scores I set about trying to figure out how to raise scores without directly teaching what was on the test. From looking at previous tests I knew the format, (sections on reading comprehension, punctuation, vocabulary, math computation, problem solving, etc.) and time constraints. About that time we received disposable paper books called Scoring High which were very similar to the standardized test format but with different stories, problems, etc. One would surely have to call this teaching to the test but I didn't see anything wrong with it and still don't as long as disadvantaged students in poorly equipped schools are going to be compared with others in more favorable learning situations. Even with such practice book resources the students are not going to be on a par with their more advantaged peers. Many underserved students do not come to school having rich educational language, experiences and positive family attitudes about education of the more advantaged. The playing field is simply not level. It shouldn't be rocket science to understand that closing that "disadvantage gap" in a school day is almost impossible.
With the advent of the DRA, (a reading assessment given in the fall and again in the spring for grades K-2), another way of comparing students and testing results arrived. I actually like the DRA. You can really see the growth from fall to spring if the students are taught properly and have good reading resources available. I took the material one step forward. I took every single vocabulary word in the various levels and proceeded to write my own leveled books with my students as the main characters and with interesting plots. I copied off each new story and the class had great fun reading and acting out the stories. They were then sent home for practice. This took a great deal of time and effort, and some creative writing as well, but my students' growth on the DRA was worth it.
In all honesty, most teachers do not have the time to do what I did. My children were grown and gone, my husband very understanding. Besides, we should not have to go to such extremes to provide this kind of learning. As I said, the playing field is not level. Either we must devise a testing instrument that takes into account the students' backgrounds and abilities or we must provide needy classrooms with aides and interns or volunteers who have been trained and can work one on one with the children who need it. We absolutely must NOT penalize teachers who are working in these kinds of schools. It is my view that they are most often dedicated, experienced and hardworking.
A word should be added for today's involved parents who rightly want their children to succeed in life, and conscientiously work with their children on homework and other school related projects. Here is a true story about a well educated working mother who was trying to help her fifth grader with some math homework: Frustrated with her inability to help, she googled the question. In amazement she learned that it was from the state's eighth grade WASL test. This is neither fair nor sensible. Hopefully it's an aberration, but it still speaks to the frustration and paranoia that can come because of over-emphasizing test results.
I should add that there is something very wrong with a society that has website after website devoted to topics of test taking lessons, test taking quizzes, test taking breakfasts, test taking posters, test taking word searches, test taking strategies, test taking bingo, test taking survival kits, test taking clipart, test taking services, test taking worksheets and test taking bulletin boards, to name only a few. There is even a book one can buy called Test Anxiety Guru for $99.50.
We have guests from Denmark who are visiting for two weeks. Maria and her husband Mark, who is actually British, have two children, ages three and five, whom they are raising to be bi-lingual in English and Danish. It is clear they like much about the United States, with our wide array of goods and attractions. But after discussing our two systems, and hearing about the education their children can expect as they grow up, I felt a little envious. Shouldn't we spend less time on the pros and cons of teaching to the test, or lessening our anxiety about the test, and more time on learning about what really works around the world? Isn't it time to give our children world class educations modeled on those countries that produce large numbers of well educated citizens? Do we really need to spend money buying books to help us feel less anxious about taking standardize tests? Perhaps, instead, it's time to apply our critical thinking skills to a solution for this very real problem.
Instead of a book I am recommending a web site for you to check out. It is about the International Baccalaureate Schools organization growing world-wide. Wade King Elementary School in Bellingham, Washington is in the process of training all teachers there in order to join the more than 2,822 schools in 138 countries. To see more go to http://www.ibo.org/